Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

25P Understanding How Agency Barriers to Fathers' Involvement Influence Children's Permanency: A Mixed Methods Study

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Tanya M. Coakley, PhD, Assoc. Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Background and Purpose:

In 2008 nearly 60% of the 463,000 children in out-of-home placements in the United States were children of color. Typically, these children stay in foster care longer than Caucasian children. Although, the foster care system is an appropriate means to provide temporary safety for abused and neglected children, it is not the best long-term or permanent solution for children to have optimal psychosocial development and overall well-being. Relative placement—which includes the father—is the preferred alternative. However, because the father is often a missing parent, partner, and positive role model in many of these families, there is a tendency in permanency planning meetings not to see the father as a positive factor for reducing children's out-of-home stays or providing permanent homes for children.

This study addresses child welfare practices and policy in order to reduce the disproportionate numbers of children of color represented in the child welfare system. The hypotheses state that: (a) children spend less time in foster care when their fathers are actively involved in the case plan than those whose fathers are not involved and (b) children are placed with relatives after foster care when their fathers are involved compared to when fathers are not involved. The objectives were to understand: the extent of fathers' involvement in their children's permanency and case planning; how fathers' involvement is related to children's permanency outcomes and; how agency practices and policy inhibit fathers' involvement.


This was a mixed methods study. Secondary data analysis was conducted for 62 randomly selected foster care case records of children, ages 0 to 18 years old. Additionally, a qualitative interview on fatherhood and involvement was conducted with 12 fathers whose children were involved in the child welfare system, and they completed a questionnaire that assessed their involvement with their children and the child welfare agency. Bivariate data analyses were conducted using SPSS, and frequencies were computed for eight facilitating themes, ten inhibiting themes, and fatherhood roles that emerged.


Results show that overall; fathers' involvement favorably influenced various permanency outcomes. The length of stay in foster care was decreased by more than half when fathers were involved. Results were significant (U= 57, N1=11.6, N2=25.5, p= .007). There also was a significant relationship between fathers' compliance with the case plan and being placed with relatives after foster care (X² = 13.32, df = 3, N = 33, p = .004). Additionally, fathers felt social workers who showed compassion and treated them with respect facilitated their involvement. Social workers' negative attitudes and unfair practices based on gender were barriers to their involvement.

Conclusions and Implications:

These findings are consistent with previous research that suggests child welfare agencies' efforts to engage fathers in permanency planning could facilitate reunification and permanency. Additionally, the interviews regarding fathers' perceptions about social workers reveal a need for agencies to develop more inclusive practices and policy concerning how they work with fathers which include their attitudes towards fathers and how they treat them.